Speed, skill, showmanship — and a large dollop of creativity — led Red Deer artist Marianne Harris to the top spot of Art Battle Alberta.
Harris beat 11 artistic competitors from Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and Olds to become the provincial champ at Friday’s speed painting competition at Festival Hall. This means she gets to face off against 20 artists from across Canada at the 2014 Art Battle Finals in Toronto on July 26 at the former Maple Leaf Gardens.
“I was shocked,” said Harris, to win both rounds of an Alberta competition that required completing two paintings in 20 minutes each in front of roving spectators. The artworks were later auctioned off.
“The crowd kept circling around, and you’d hear people’s comments, but you had to stay pretty focused,” recalled Harris. She had a plan of what kind of paintings she would do, but was not allowed to bring any reference material to the competition. Since even the acrylic paints and canvases were supplied, “the only thing you could bring is brushes,” she added.
During the preliminary round, Harris got into the fun spirit of the event by dancing to the music as she readied to paint.
She started out by applying an abstract red, blue and white background to the canvas, and at the last minute, surprised the audience by adding a stylized human figure.
“My husband was listening to feedback from the crowd and he said, ‘I think you’ve got a pretty good chance,’” said Harris. She was nonetheless pleasantly surprised to win this first round and landed a spot in the final round.
Harris’ provincial championship-winning second painting was a “semi-realistic” landscape that started with a green background and yellow highlights that resembled northern lights.
She sketched in a dark horizon with some tree shapes as well as tall grasses in the foreground and used the edge of a credit card to scratch in details — a crowd-pleasing move. Harris said she finally made the painting “pop” with orange highlights.
The audience was in suspense as to her subject matter until Harris had added enough brush strokes to fill in the landscape.
“They had no idea, until I added the details, of the final outcome” — which probably helped her win, she said.
Harris never expected a victory, since she was only at the Art Battle Alberta event to fill in for another artist, who had to bow out due to a funeral. Harris had not competed in the May qualifier for this competition, which raised funds for the Nuit Blanche open-air arts and culture festival, to be held in downtown Red Deer on Sept. 10.
However, she did participate in a previous Art Battle, staged last September to benefit the Mavis Goss Foundation for cancer research. Harris didn’t win the 2013 event, but got a good sense of what was needed for the competition.
“You have to draw on your skills and experience, your sense of composition, your lights and darks and other elements of design.”
The medical transcriptionist for Alberta Health Services began creating art in the mid 1980s after a doctor acquaintance encouraged her to take workshops and to join the Edmonton Art Club.
Harris, who has three sons and two step-daughters, joined the Red Deer Art Club after moving here 12 years ago, and has continued to hone her multi-faceted talents in watercolour, acrylic and mixed media through short-term classes and workshops.
She now sells her eclectic paintings in diverse styles, ranging from realistic to abstract, and also teaches art out of Paintwerx Studios, located in her home in the Pines.